KARACHI: A weeping cabinet member resigning live on air: an unprecedented event, even in the often bizarre world of Pakistani politics.
Some said it was reflective of party divisions. Others even suggested it was a publicity stunt to divert attention from the PTI rally. Either way, in a dramatic development, Federal Minister for Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan withdrew her resignation on Sunday, hours after she offered to quit her ministerial post.
Awan made the surprise announcement at the televised federal cabinet meeting at Governor House in Karachi. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani later persuaded her to withdraw the resignation. “The prime minister tore up my resignation letter and asked me to continue my work,” Awan told reporters later.
The 100th meeting of the cabinet started at around 10 am. After the PM completed his speech, Awan asked to say a few words. After praising President Asif Zardari, she startled the cabinet and those watching on television with a tearful speech.
Cabinet members, unsure of the protocol, started looking at each other and waited to take the prime minister’s lead.
Addressing Gilani, Awan said: “While endorsing your leadership, I don’t think I can continue as a member of the cabinet. With your permission, I would like to submit my resignation.” Expressing her belief she was ‘not competent enough’ to continue in the role, she added that she did not want to be part of a ministry which caused problems for the party.
After Awan left, Federal Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio and Babar Awan, present as a special invitee, pursued her and tried to bring her back to the meeting. She refused and waited in the corridor of Governor House, complaining that “party leaders are continuously ignoring her.” Later the cabinet members took her back to the meeting.
Sources said that after a few minutes Zardari called Gilani and inquired about the matter. The PM held a separate meeting with Awan and assured her that all her reservations would be addressed.
It was not immediately clear if she was forced to resign or if she had proposed to quit voluntarily. Some analysts say Awan may have been forced to resign due to her failure to convincingly defend the government in the Memogate scandal.
“We have asked the president and the prime minister several times to remove her, because she has no such skills to counter opponents in the media. We have demanded a more vocal member for the slot,” a PPP leader said.
The prime minister put the U-turn down to the nature of politics. During the press briefing on the cabinet meeting, Gilani said: “Politics is a day-to-day affair and even a week is too long. We have addressed all her concerns,” he added.
Awan, who was in a wheelchair due to a fractured leg, was still displeased. “Actually I do not have authority and have been working as a powerless minister. Three to four people are interfering in the affairs of my ministry. They are behaving like de facto information ministers,” she said.
The information minister added that she had lodged many complaints with the prime minister and president, but without success. “I had decided to quit the ministry, not the party. I cannot think about giving up my affiliation with the PPP,” she added.
Before the development, there had been rumours Awan would join the PTI during their rally in Karachi at the Quaid’s mausoleum. Soon after the news was reported by a few TV channels, PPP ministers refuted the claims and announced that Awan would return to Islamabad along with the other cabinet members. Some analysts had more cynical theories, claiming the entire episode was just a trick to divert attention from the PTI.
Following Sherry Rahman and Qamar Zaman Kaira, Awan is the third information minister who has resigned from this slot during the PPP government’s four-year rule.
(With additional input from wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2011.